Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kendall College debuts outdoor oven

A new piece of equipment is getting a rise out of faculty and students at Kendall College, but it’s not located in one of the school's state-of-the-art kitchens; it’s in the courtyard. Kendall recently unveiled an outdoor wood-fired brick oven, which aims to revive a centuries-old custom of community cooking and baking while expanding students' learning experience.

“Historically and throughout the world, many town and village squares boasted an oven that everyone used to bake their home-prepared bread dough,” master baker and Kendall culinary arts instructor Melina Kelson-Podolsky said in a recent press release. “The oven served as a gathering site for the community.”

Kendall’s wood-fired bread oven is expected to draw welcome interest from the surrounding community on Chicago’s Goose Island, but that’s not the oven’s primary purpose. “It’s used across the curriculum--everything from drying herbs to roasting meats to baking pastry and breads,” Kelson-Podolsky added. Guests of Kendall’s highly rated Dining Room also benefit; the outdoor oven is often employed to cook pizza specials on the lunch menu.

Construction of the oven, which began last summer thanks to funding from Chicago-based Bays English Muffin Corp., was an exacting process that encompassed several months and capitalized on the talents of local artisans. The “guts” of the oven were completed by a team of five students, Kelson-Podolsky and another baker with oven-building experience.

Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, Kendall College’s dean of culinary arts, said in the release that foods baked and cooked in a wood-fired oven take on a pleasing organoleptic quality that is often difficult to achieve in a conventional oven. “Breads and meats from an outdoor wood-fired oven promote the interaction between the mouth and nose in a way that recalls rustic cooking of yesteryear,” he went on to say. “The sensory experience is enticingly nostalgic and leaves us hungry for more.” Koetke added that periodic tasting events for the local community and greater Chicago area will expose more people to the tantalizing flavors and aromas of foods cooked in the new oven.